Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thanksgiving for Lives that Matter

According to American history textbooks, the Thanksgiving holiday is a celebration of cross cultural cooperation between the Pilgrims (infamously seeking religious freedom) and the indigenous people in the area of present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. Clearly, this happy occasion (how ever much of it is based on fact) did not overcome human nature once and for all.

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If you have some down time over the Thanksgiving break, consider challenging yourself with self reflection.

In light of recent events in the United States and the world, questions of our own contributions to the problems and solutions inevitably come up for us.

I recommend a book called, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.

In this book, the reader is challenged to take personal inventory of their own biases through a number of Implicit Association Tests (IAT) developed at Harvard University -- either online at or on paper within the book itself. They point out preferences that we have without realizing that we have them. Many are harmless - most people prefer flowers over insects. But others are troubling.

The Race IAT is one of those. Even those who feel strongly that racism is wrong and work against race related injustices find that they have a preference for white people over black people, for example. This includes the authors, much to their chagrin, and many people of color. They demonstrate over and over again through various case studies that these biases are hard wired into our thinking through wide spread systemic socialization. In other words, it is the water we swim in.

They then ask the question that is most important in my mind, What do we do about it?

I appreciate that they do not suggest that there is a simple answer.

What can I do? I hope that trying to become self-aware of my own hidden (even to me) stereotypes will help to minimize my implicit contribution to societal injustices. I can, at least, try to see some validity in the perception of those who feel so marginalized that they must "act out" to draw attention to their shared experiences. I can join the conversation in humility--starting by listening. I can strive to have compassion rather than to judge. I can remember to pray--on Thanksgiving and every day--that we all will see ways that we contribute to the problems we are concerned about and resolve to do better.

I can recommend this book and wish you a happy Thanksgiving!


Banaji, Mahzarin R., and Anthony G. Greenwald. 2013. Blindspot : Hidden Biases of Good People. New York: Delacorte Press.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

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